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Article

Chinese has been known to be a language without grammaticalized tense. However, this statement does not mean that native speakers of Chinese cannot tell the temporal location of a Chinese sentence. In addition to temporal phrases, which often are considered to identify the temporal location of a Chinese sentence, the aspectual value of a sentence, either situation aspect or viewpoint aspect, plays a significant role in this issue. Basically, a telic event receives a past interpretation unless explicitly specified otherwise whereas an atelic event gets a present reading until overridden. In addition, there is a possibility, based on examples where the past has an effect on the whole discourse in Chinese instead of single sentences, that tense is a discourse-level feature in Chinese. On the other hand, Chinese has a rich aspectual system, including four aspect markers: perfective le, experiential guò, durative zhe, and progressive zài. The former two are perfective markers and the latter are imperfective markers. Perfective le interacts with eventualities of different situation types to yield different readings. Going with an accomplishment, perfective le receives a completive reading or terminative reading. Presenting an achievement, perfective le gets a completive reading. Perfective le plus an activity forms an incomplete sentence. Together with a state, perfective le induces an inchoative reading. Most of the theories that explain the diverse readings of perfective le resort to the obvious, differentiating point in the temporal schema of a situation: either the (natural) final endpoint or the initial point. Experiential guò has several semantic properties, including at least one occurrence, a class meaning, discontinuity, compatibility only with recurrable situations, and temporal independence. There are two major accounts for the semantics of experiential guò: the temporal quantification account and the terminability as the sole inherent feature account. For the former, experiential guò is considered a temporal quantifier and all the properties follow from the semantic properties of a quantifier. For the latter, terminability is argued to be the sole inherent semantic property for experiential guò and all the properties are derived from discontinuity. The semantics of the two imperfective makers are less complicated. It is generally accepted that progressive zài presents an unbounded, ongoing event but that durative zhe introduces a resultative state. One possible further semantic distinction between progressive zài and durative zhe is that the former has an instant reading whereas the latter has an interval reading. Moreover, the rhetorical function of durative zhe needs to be considered so that a satisfactory explanation for the V1 zhe V2 construction can be achieved.

Article

Verbal periphrases combine two verbal forms that share their arguments. One of the forms, [V2], lexically determines most of the argument structure of the whole construction, whereas the other, [V1], contributes the sort of abstract meaning usually associated with functional categories in the realms of tense, aspect, and modality and is often classified as a (semi-)auxiliary. In most cases, [V2] appears in a fixed nonfinite form (infinitive, gerund, or participle), whereas the inflection on [V1] is variable; the periphrastic pattern may also include a preposition introducing the nonfinite form. Research on verbal periphrases has concentrated on the differences between periphrastic patterns and free patterns of complementation or adjunction involving nonfinite clauses, on the syntactic analysis of those patterns, and on their semantic classification. The renewed interest in the field in recent years has two sources. On the one hand, research on grammaticalization has emphasized the importance of periphrases for our understanding of the way in which exponents for grammatical meanings emerge diachronically from lexical constructions. On the other hand, work in generative syntax (in the so-called cartographic approach) has taken periphrases as evidence for the postulated existence of highly articulated functional layers above a core verb phrase headed by a lexical verb. The bulk of nonpassive verbal periphrases either modify Aktionsart or express viewpoint aspect or relative tense. Research has revealed considerable differences in their inventory and in the status of cognate periphrases across Romance, as well as some parallel or convergent developments.

Article

While in phonology Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) dialects preserved the phonological system of Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morphosyntax underwent far-reaching changes, which altered fundamentally the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan (NIA). Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the Late MIA period (ca. 5th–12th centuries ce) when we can observe these matters in statu nascendi. There is copious literature on the origin of the ergative construction: passive-to-ergative reanalysis; the ergative hypothesis, i.e., that the passive construction of OIA was already ergative; and a compromise stance that neither the former nor the latter approach is fully adequate. In the spirit of the complementary view of these matters, more attention has to be paid to various pathways in which typological changes operated over different kinds of nominal, pronominal and verbal constituents during the crucial MIA period. (a) We shall start with the restructuring of the nominal case system in terms of the reduction of the number of cases from seven to four. This phonologically motivated process resulted ultimately in the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period). (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated. (c) In the verbal system we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the “weakening” of s > h > Ø. (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the “absolutive” vs. “oblique” case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently with the development toward the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering in the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan. On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective–Perfective–Perfect (in morphological terms Present–Aorist–Perfect). The NIA Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for a deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.

Article

Marianne Mithun

Distinctions of time are among the most common notions expressed in morphology cross-linguistically. But the inventories of distinctions marked in individual languages are also varied. Some languages have few if any morphological markers pertaining to time, while others have extensive sets. Certain categories do recur pervasively across languages, but even these can vary subtly or even substantially in their uses. And they may be optional or obligatory. The grammar of time is traditionally divided into two domains: tense and aspect. Tense locates situations in time. Tense markers place them along a timeline with respect to some point of reference, a deictic center. The most common reference point is the moment of speech. Many languages have just three tense categories: past for situations before the time of speech, present for those overlapping with the moment of speech, and future for those subsequent to the moment of speech. But many languages have no morphological tense, some have just two categories, and some have many more. In some languages, morphological distinctions correspond fairly closely to identifiable times. There may, for example, be a today (hodiernal) past that contrasts with a yesterday (hesternal) past. In other languages, tense distinctions are more fluid. A recent past might be interpreted as ‘some time earlier today’ for a sentence meaning ‘I ate a banana’, but ‘within the last few months’ for a sentence meaning ‘I returned from Africa’. Languages also vary in the mobility of the deictic center. In some languages tense distinctions are systematically calibrated with respect to the moment of speaking. In others, the deictic center may shift. It may be established by the matrix clause in a complex sentence. Or it may be established by a larger topic of discussion. Tense is most often a verbal category, because verbs generally portray the most dynamic elements of a situation, but a number of languages distinguish tense on nouns as well. Aspect characterizes the internal temporal structure of a situation. There may be different forms of a verb ‘eat’, for example, in sentences meaning ‘I ate lamb chops’, ‘I was eating lamb chops’, and ‘I used to eat lamb chops’, though all are past tense. They may pick out one phase of the situation, with different forms for ‘I began to eat’, ‘I was eating’, and ‘I ate it up’. They may make finer distinctions, with different forms for ‘I took a bite’, ‘I nibbled’, and ‘I kept eating’. Morphological aspect distinctions are usually marked on verbs, but in some languages they can be marked on nominals as well. In some languages, there is a clear separation between the two: tense is expressed in one part of the morphology, and aspect in another. But often a single marker conveys both: a single suffix might mark both past tense and progressive aspect in a sentence meaning ‘I was eating’, for example. A tense distinction may be made only in a particular aspect, and/or a certain aspect distinction marked only in a particular tense. Like other areas of grammar, tense and aspect systems are constantly evolving. The meanings of markers can shift over time, as speakers apply them to new contexts, and as new markers enter the system, taking over some of their functions. Markers can shift for example from aspect to tense, or from derivation to inflection. The gradualness of such developments underlies the cross-linguistic differences we find in tense and aspect categories. There is a rich literature on tense and aspect. As more is learned about the inventories of categories that exist in individual languages and the ways speakers deploy them, theoretical models continue to grow in sophistication.

Article

Louise Esher, Franck Floricic, and Martin Maiden

The term finite morphology corresponds to the morphological expression of person and number and of tense, mood, and aspect in the verb. In Romance languages, these features are typically expressed “synthetically,” that is, in single word forms. These latter generally comprise a ‘root’, usually leftmost in the word, which conveys the lexical meaning of the verb, and material to the right of the root which conveys most of the grammatical meaning. But lexical and grammatical information is also characteristically ‘compressed’, or ‘conflated’ within the word, in that it can be impossible to tease apart exponents of the grammatical meanings or to extricate the expression of lexical meaning from that of grammatical meaning. The range of grammatical meanings encoded in Romance finite verb forms can vary considerably cross-linguistically. At the extremes, there are languages that have three tenses of the subjunctive, and others that have no synthetic future-tense form, and others that have two future-tense forms or no (synthetic) past-tense forms. There can also be extreme mismatches between meanings and the forms that express them: again, at the extremes, meanings may be present without formal expression, or forms may appear which correspond to no coherent meaning. Both for desinences and for patterns of root allomorphy, variation is observed with respect to the features expressed and their morphological exponence. While some categories of Latin finite synthetic verb morphology have been entirely lost, many forms are continued, with or without functional continuity. An innovation of many Romance varieties is the emergence of a new synthetic future and conditional from a periphrasis originally expressing deontic modality.

Article

Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng

Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.

Article

Antonio Fábregas and Rafael Marín

The term nominalization refers to a specific type of category-changing morphological operation that produces nouns from other lexical categories, most productively verbs and adjectives. By extension, it is also used to refer to the resulting derived nouns. In Romance languages, nominalization generally involves addition of a suffix to the base (cf. Italian generoso ‘generous’ > generos-ità ‘generosity’), and such suffixes are called nominalizers. However there are also cases of nouns built from other categories without any overt nominalizer (cf. Spanish inútil ‘useless’ > inútil ‘useless person’); descriptively, this process is called conversion, and it is debatable whether it should also be treated as a nominalization or whether another different kind of morphological operation is involved here. Nominalizations can be divided in several classes depending on a variety of semantic and syntactic factors, such as the type of entities that they denote or the ability to introduce arguments. The main nominalization classes are (a) complex event nominalizations, which come from verbs, can combine with some temporal and aspectual modifiers, and have the ability to introduce at least an internal argument; (b) state nominalizations, which denote states associated to the verbs that serve as their bases; (c) participant nominalizations, which denote different types of arguments of the base, such as agents, resulting objects, locations or recipients; and (d) quality nominalizations, coming from adjectives and more restrictively from verbs, which denote a set of properties related to their base. Different classes of predicates select for different nominalization types, and there is a debate surrounding which tests capture in a more complete way the nuances of this taxonomy. Nominalizers impose different types of restrictions to their bases: aspectual restrictions (individual-level vs. stage-level, (a) telicity, dynamicity, etc.), argument structure restrictions (agent vs. nonagent, different types of internal arguments), morphological restrictions (for instance, selecting only verbs that belong to a particular conjugation class), and finally conceptual restrictions (for instance, showing a strong preference for bases belonging to a particular conceptual domain). In Romance languages, nominalizations sometimes alternate with other word classes, most significantly infinitives (see article on “Infinitival Clauses in the Romance Languages” in this encyclopedia). Infinitival constructions in Romance can display a mixture of verbal and nominal properties, or be totally recategorized as nouns, and in both cases they can compete with prototypical nominalizations. Less generally, participles (see article on “Participial Relative Clauses” in this encyclopedia), gerunds and supines can also display nominalization properties in some Romance varieties.

Article

Compound and complex predicates—predicates that consist of two or more lexical items and function as the predicate of a single sentence—present an important class of linguistic objects that pertain to an enormously wide range of issues in the interactions of morphology, phonology, syntax, and semantics. Japanese makes extensive use of compounding to expand a single verb into a complex one. These compounding processes range over multiple modules of the grammatical system, thus straddling the borders between morphology, syntax, phonology, and semantics. In terms of degree of phonological integration, two types of compound predicates can be distinguished. In the first type, called tight compound predicates, two elements from the native lexical stratum are tightly fused and inflect as a whole for tense. In this group, Verb-Verb compound verbs such as arai-nagasu [wash-let.flow] ‘to wash away’ and hare-agaru [sky.be.clear-go.up] ‘for the sky to clear up entirely’ are preponderant in numbers and productivity over Noun-Verb compound verbs such as tema-doru [time-take] ‘to take a lot of time (to finish).’ The second type, called loose compound predicates, takes the form of “Noun + Predicate (Verbal Noun [VN] or Adjectival Noun [AN]),” as in post-syntactic compounds like [sinsya : koonyuu] no okyakusama ([new.car : purchase] GEN customers) ‘customer(s) who purchase(d) a new car,’ where the symbol “:” stands for a short phonological break. Remarkably, loose compounding allows combinations of a transitive VN with its agent subject (external argument), as in [Supirubaagu : seisaku] no eiga ([Spielberg : produce] GEN film) ‘a film/films that Spielberg produces/produced’—a pattern that is illegitimate in tight compounds and has in fact been considered universally impossible in the world’s languages in verbal compounding and noun incorporation. In addition to a huge variety of tight and loose compound predicates, Japanese has an additional class of syntactic constructions that as a whole function as complex predicates. Typical examples are the light verb construction, where a clause headed by a VN is followed by the light verb suru ‘do,’ as in Tomodati wa sinsya o koonyuu (sae) sita [friend TOP new.car ACC purchase (even) did] ‘My friend (even) bought a new car’ and the human physical attribute construction, as in Sensei wa aoi me o site-iru [teacher TOP blue eye ACC do-ing] ‘My teacher has blue eyes.’ In these constructions, the nominal phrases immediately preceding the verb suru are semantically characterized as indefinite and non-referential and reject syntactic operations such as movement and deletion. The semantic indefiniteness and syntactic immobility of the NPs involved are also observed with a construction composed of a human subject and the verb aru ‘be,’ as Gakkai ni wa oozei no sankasya ga atta ‘There was a large number of participants at the conference.’ The constellation of such “word-like” properties shared by these compound and complex predicates poses challenging problems for current theories of morphology-syntax-semantics interactions with regard to such topics as lexical integrity, morphological compounding, syntactic incorporation, semantic incorporation, pseudo-incorporation, and indefinite/non-referential NPs.

Article

Willem F. H. Adelaar

Quechuan is a family of closely related indigenous languages spoken in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, in the central part of the Andean cordilleras, in what used to be the Empire of the Incas and adjacent areas. It is divided into two main branches, commonly denominated Quechua I and II, and comprises 15 or more spoken varieties and several extinct ones that can be considered separate languages, although an exact number cannot easily be established. Quechuan shares a long and intense contact history with the neighboring Aymaran languages, but a genealogical relationship between the two families has never been demonstrated, nor a relationship with any other language family in the area. Quechuan languages are mainly agglutinative. All grammatical categories are indicated by suffixes with very few exceptions. The order in which these suffixes occur within a word form is governed by rules and combinatory restrictions that can be rigid but not always explicable on a basis of scope and function. Portmanteau suffixes play a role in verbal inflection and in mutually interrelated domains of aspect and number in the Quechua I branch. In Quechuan verbal derivation affixes may be semantically polyvalent, depending on the combinations in which they occur, pragmatic considerations, the nature of the root to which they are attached, their position in the affix order, and so on. Verbal derivational affixes often combine with specific verbal roots to denote meanings that are not fully predictable on the basis of the meaning of the components. Other verbal affixes never occur in such combinations. Verbal morphology and nominal morphology tend to overlap in the domain of personal reference, where subject and possessor markers are largely similar. Otherwise, the two morphological domains are almost completely separate. Not only the morphological inventories but also the formal constraints underlying the structure of verbs and nouns differ. Nominal expressions feature an elaborate but relatively instable system of case markers, some of which appear to be of recent formation. Transposition from one class to another, nominalization in particular, is indicated morphologically and occupies a central place in Quechuan grammar, particularly in interaction with case. Finally, there is a class of Independent suffixes that can be attached to members of all word classes, including adverbial elements that cannot be classified as verbs or nominals. These suffixes play a role at the organizational level of larger syntactic units, such as clauses, nominal phrases, and sentences.

Article

Dene languages are often recognized for their morphological complexity. The languages are known in particular for their complex verbal morphology, and the Dene verb word has received considerable attention in the literature. The verb word is polysynthetic, with several unusual properties: the actual morpheme inventory is relatively small, with rich word formation possibilities; it is prefixing, while suffixing is far more common amongst the world’s languages; what is a single morpheme from a semantic perspective can be discontinuous, illustrating what Whorf calls interrupted synthesis; a single morpheme can be both semantically productive and lexically idiosyncratic; some affixes are mobile; there is considerable homophony; fusion of morphemes is common; and aspects of the phonology lead to surface opacity, with unexpected allomorphy. Several proposals have been introduced to account for the structure of the verb word, and psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic factors that enter in to understanding the complexities of the verb word have been addressed. There is also research on the acquisition of and teaching of the verb word. Overall, it is important to ask what the structure of the verb is synchronically, and what, while interesting, is a consequence of diachronic developments. In addition to the well-studied complexities of the verb, there are also interesting aspects of other categories. The nouns are worthy of attention for their formation, a noun classification system, and nominal possession. The directional systems of Dene languages tend to be rich, including both a root that indicates direction and a prefix that specifies distance or direction from the speaker. At least some of he languages also have evidentials, and these are, in general, understudied. Dene languages, like many other languages of North America, are now being learned largely as second languages. This increases the urgency to study areas such as acquisition and language use in order to help in sustaining the languages in communities where this is desired.

Article

In morphology, the two labels ‘collective’ and ‘abstract’ have been used to refer to properties and categories relevant at different levels. The term collective is normally used in connection with number and plurality in reference to a plurality presented as a homogeneous group of entities. This can be relevant for inflectional morphology where it can be shown to flank markers for coding number in some languages. Moreover, a plurality intended as a homogeneous group of individuals can also be relevant for word-formation patterns where it usually expresses concrete or abstract sets of objects relating to the derivational base. The term abstract makes general reference to processes of nominalization from different source classes, especially verbs and adjectives. In the passage to the nominal domain, verbal properties like tense and argument structure are partially lost while new nominal properties are acquired. In particular, a number of semantic shifts are observed which turn the abstract noun into a concrete noun referring to the result, the place, etc. relating to the derivational base. Although the morphological processes covered by the two labels apparently depict different conceptual domains, there is in fact an area where they systematically overlap, namely with deverbal nouns denoting an abstract or concrete, iterated or habitual instantiation of the action referred to by the verbal base, which can be conceptualized as a collective noun.

Article

Terttu Nevalainen

In the Early Modern English period (1500–1700), steps were taken toward Standard English, and this was also the time when Shakespeare wrote, but these perspectives are only part of the bigger picture. This chapter looks at Early Modern English as a variable and changing language not unlike English today. Standardization is found particularly in spelling, and new vocabulary was created as a result of the spread of English into various professional and occupational specializations. New research using digital corpora, dictionaries, and databases reveals the gradual nature of these processes. Ongoing developments were no less gradual in pronunciation, with processes such as the Great Vowel Shift, or in grammar, where many changes resulted in new means of expression and greater transparency. Word order was also subject to gradual change, becoming more fixed over time.

Article

Functional categories carry little or no semantic content by themselves and contribute crucially to sentence structure. In the generative framework, they are assumed to mark and head functional projections in the basic hierarchical structure underlying each phrase or sentence. Given their intertwining with grammar, child language researchers have long been attracted by the development of functional categories. To a child, it is important to differentiate functional categories from lexical categories and relate each of them to the hidden hierarchical structure of the phrase or sentence. The learning of a functional category is no easy task and implies the development of different dimensions of linguistic knowledge, including the lexical realization of the functional category in the ambient language, the specific grammatical function it serves, the abstract underlying structure, and the semantic properties of the associated structure. A central issue in the acquisition of functional categories concerns whether children have access to functional categories early in language development. Differing accounts have been proposed. According to the maturational view, functional categories are absent in children’s initial grammar and mature later. In contrast to the maturational view is the continuity view, which assumes children’s continuous access to functional categories throughout language development. Cross-linguistic evidence from production and experimental studies has been accumulated in support of the continuity hypothesis. Mandarin Chinese has a rich inventory of function words, though it lacks overt inflectional markers. De, aspect markers, ba, and sentence final particles are among the most commonly used function words and play a fundamental role in sentence structure in Mandarin Chinese in that they are functional categories that head various functional projections in the hierarchical structure. Acquisition studies show that these function words emerge early in development and children’s use of these function words is mostly target-like, offering evidence for the continuity view of functional categories as well as insights into child grammar in Mandarin Chinese.

Article

Sentential meaning that emerges compositionally is not always transparent as one-to-one mapping from syntactic structure to semantic representation; oftentimes, the meaning is underspecified (morphosyntactically unsupported), not explicitly conveyed via overt linguistic devices. Compositional meaning is obtained during comprehension. The associated issues are explored by examining linguistic factors that modulate the construal of underspecified iterative meaning in Mandarin Chinese (MC). In this case, the factors include lexical aspect of verbs, the interval-lengths denoted by post-verbal durative adverbials, and boundary specificity denoted by preverbal versus post-verbal temporal adverbials. The composition of a punctual verb (e.g., jump, poke) with a durative temporal adverbial like Zhangsan tiao-le shi fenzhong. Zhangsan jump-LE ten minute ‘Zhangsan jumped for ten minutes’ engenders an iterative meaning, which is morphosyntactically absent yet fully understood by comprehenders. Contrastively, the counterpart involving a durative verb (e.g., run, swim) like Zhangsan pao-le shi fenzhong Zhangsan run-LE ten minute ‘Zhangsan ran for ten minutes’ engenders a continuous reading with identical syntactic structure. Psycholinguistically, processing such underspecified meaning in real time has been shown to require greater effort than the transparent counterpart. This phenomenon has been attested cross-linguistically; yet how it is manifested in MC, a tenseless language, remains understudied. In addition, durative temporal adverbials like yizhi/buduandi ‘continuously,’ which appear preverbally in MC, also engender an iterative meaning when composed with a punctual verb like Zhangsan yizhi/buduandi tiao. Zhangsan continuously jump ‘Zhangsan jumped continuously.’ Crucially, unlike the post-verbal adverbials that encode specific boundaries for the denoted intervals, these preverbal adverbials refer to continuous time spans without specific endpoints. The difference in boundary specificity between the two adverbial types, while both being durative, is hypothesized to modulate the processing profiles of aspectual comprehension. Results of the online (timed) questionnaire showed (a) an effect of boundary specificity: sentences with post-verbal adverbials that encode [+specific boundary] were rated lower in the naturalness-rating task and induced longer response time (RT) in iterativity judgements, as compared to preverbal adverbials that encode [−specific boundary]; (b) in composition with post-verbal adverbials that are [+specific boundary], sentences involving durative verbs elicited lower rating scores and longer RT of iterativity judgements than the counterpart involving punctual verbs. These suggest that the comprehension of underspecified iterative meaning is modulated by both cross-linguistically similar parameters and language-specific systems of temporal reference, by which MC exhibits a typological difference in processing profiles. Overall, the patterns are consistent with the Context-Dependence approach to semantic underspecification: comprehenders compute the ultimate reading (iterative versus continuous) by taking both the sentential and extra-sentential information into consideration in a given context.